I spent the day with my little dog, Henry. He’d been unwell and was clearly in a lot of pain. Wouldn’t come back inside the house from the yard, refused to go for a walk. We thought he might have hurt a paw, or maybe had some kind of GI thing going on. We made an appointment for Friday, the first-available slot with his vet, but by Tuesday he wasn’t eating or drinking, so on Wednesday morning I took him to the doggy ER.

It turns out he’s got a herniated disc in his back. There’s not a lot we can do for it at this point—steroids and painkillers, with a backup supply of sedatives if he starts getting frisky. He’s supposed to lay low for a while. No jumping, no stairs. Hopefully after some rest he’ll be able to join me for some Henry-sized walks around the neighborhood, but it’s hard to say what the long-term prognosis will be. He’s about ten years old and has always been a bouncy little guy, the kind of dog you think will live for years and years. But now I’m less than sanguine about his future.

This is the hardest part of owning a pet. You have to make these awful decisions on their behalf, and the family finances have got to be factored in. I absolutely hate that. Of course the impulse is to say, yes, please, do whatever you can, whatever will keep him going, whatever it costs. But it’s not realistic. The ER visit was $1300, so I can’t imagine what a major spinal surgery would cost and entail, with no guarantee of a positive outcome.

I know it makes me a shitty person, maybe an irresponsible pet owner, to think about money in a relationship which is so purely about love. I have a friend who spends more per month on her dogs’ medications than she actually earns at her job. She’s been doing so for years. This is an admirable level of devotion, but I’m torn when I consider a situation like that for my family. Would it really be for the best? That constant drain? You’d be able to say you did everything you could, and that’s important. Yet I can’t see myself sacrificing every hour of every workday to provide meds for my dog, and retirement be damned.

God, it’s hard to know. Henry’s curled up beside me, drugged and sleepy, glancing over now and then from the corner of his eye. He trusts me to take care of him, and I’m trying.

Be okay, Hen. I hope you’ll be okay.